Muslims and Modi

Deoband VC’s attempt to bridge the divide made little sense


Last week Deoband vice chancellor Maulana Ghulam Muhammed Vastanvi praised the functioning of the government of Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. He also called on Muslims in Gujarat to forget the 2003 Pogrom and move on. His remarks heaved a big rock into the otherwise quiet pond of Deoband seminary with many clerics and students alike expressing a strong disapproval of the VC's opinion. Across the country, predominant Muslim opinion looked at the VC's praise with disbelief, seeing it as betrayal from a person who effectively happens to be their top religious leader. Vastanvi soon offered to resign and now his fate will be decided by the Deoband Shura which is scheduled to meet on February 23.
The VC's observations about Modi have also generated a massive media buzz with opinion bitterly split between the Maulana's right to say what he did and the sharp criticism of his attempt to exonerate Modi. Media, on its own, has watched at the development with a certain degree of affected impartiality and amusement, letting this crucial introspective turn in the Muslim understanding of Gujarat riots play itself out. The debate only became more interesting as Vastanvi added his own observations to it. Even though, he subsequently retracted his alleged praise of Modi, he didn't step back from his admiration of the economic progress in Gujarat during Modi's tenure and his earlier acknowledgement that minority Muslim community there was also its beneficiary.
The debate has since wound down without resolving anything. Vastanvi continues to be safe in his job. It, however, did offer a rare glimpse into the Indian Muslim mindset, their fears, apprehensions and grievances, marked by a conspicuous absence of hope.
One of the debaters on TV drew an interesting picture of the post-riots plight of Muslims in Gujarat, by dividing Muslim population in the state in three sections. One, which had completely lost hope and left themselves at the mercy of fate under Modi. Another continued to struggle for their rights against heavy odds. And third - like Vastanvi, the debater stressed - had compromised.
There are others who have passionately defended Vastanvi's right to have his opinion - even if in their wisdom it would mean a subtle defense of Modi. But all the same, Vastanvi who unlike traditional religious heads is an MBA and has a Facebook account, has found himself mired in the swirling controversy from which he won't be able to extricate himself for a while to come.
However, what makes the debate over Vastanvi's comments important is not the alleged internal politics of the Deoband where Jamiat-e-Ulema-e-Hind is said to be seeking to regain control of the Darul Uloom - that is a distracting dimension - but the very nature of its having arisen in the first place. And that is the Muslim relationship with Modi. And he cannot and is not the past from which Muslims need to move on or reconcile with. There can and should be no problem if he always remains a hate figure.
Muslims in Gujarat, of course need to come to terms with the 2003 pogrom as a collective tragedy. How do they deal with this past: they might try to forget it, reconcile with it and then hopefully move on. These things happen as a matter of course, as part of an inherent natural process.  But to move on from an unpleasant past they certainly do not need to absolve the people who made it painful for them.
Trouble with Vastanvi is that he in an unwelcome way has ushered Modi into this process.  So, instead of dealing with the past and its painful memory, we start engaging with Modi as a person and along the way the emphasis on the serious priority of Muslims getting on with their lives appears like absolving the Gujarat chief minister of his all too apparent role in the riots. More so, when the detritus of this past is still strewn around us. And that, it is the Deoband VC who unsuspectingly or deliberately is aiding the exoneration of Modi has a certain troubling dimension that sits above the simplistic freedom of expression debate to which it has been reduced to. Nor is it the internal Deoband politics which needs to be stressed over and above the import of Maulana's utterances about Modi.
The larger question that hangs over the debate is whether Muslims or their leadership, both political and religious, can reconcile with Modi. Or whether there is a need and necessity to reconcile with him at all.  Isn’t it just ok to just ignore him and move on.
Or is there a need to relentlessly fight Modi and his hate-mongering, divisive agenda that his administrative efficiency will never redeem. This is a Modi who has yet to apologize for the riots and proceed against the people guilty of the Muslim massacres. His government has stymied the legal action against an array of the activists who have publicly admitted their role in the killings forcing Supreme Court to move some of the more high-profile cases outside the state.
And this is a Modi who even seven years after the carnage which claimed around 2000 Muslim lives has yet to visit the Muslim refugee camps, and who some prominent national politicians have repeatedly said is a fit case to be tried in an international human rights court. This is also a Modi whom United States will not issue the visa to visit the country. This is what, more than anything else makes Maulana Vastanvi's Modi - Deoband VC, no less - remarks not only uncalled for but also unilateral and hence more hurtful to Muslims.

Lastupdate on : Tue, 1 Feb 2011 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Tue, 1 Feb 2011 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Wed, 2 Feb 2011 00:00:00 IST

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